Author Archives: mike.merchant

Insect ID via mobile device

I get lots of images in email and on the web for identification. I get to see some amazing insects and good pictures this way, but I also receive a lot of really bad insect pictures. And since bad pictures don’t help your chances of getting a successful identification, it’s in everyone’s interest to take better pictures.  So here are five tips for improving your chances to get an insect identified via email, your cell phone or other mobile device. Focus on the insect, not the background.  Corollary… Read More →

When ants invade

It’s ant season, and garden centers around Texas are swarming with folks looking for a quick solution to ant invasions. Ants have been the bane of humankind since before the first picnic. But who could imagine how much misery and anger a tiny little insect like an ant could produce? But of course it’s never just one ant that’s the problem.  As I was recently reminded, one ant can quickly turn into dozens on the floor, on counter-tops and in the bathroom. My wife and I experienced that… Read More →

Chigger season

If my phone calls are any indication, this appears to be a whopping chigger season.  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  You should count your blessings. Chiggers are my personal worst nightmare. They are tiny mites, barely visible to the eye, that live on the soil surface and, in their larval stage, are parasites on humans and other vertebrate animals. Chigger bites itch terribly for 1-2 days, then slowly shrink to mildly itchy red marks that take 1 or 2 weeks to disappear. The only good thing I… Read More →

Caring about the Other Bees

In my experience, most people like bees. Aside from the occasional bad encounter with a sting, most of us know that bees are good, and a necessary part of our spaceship-earth zoo. Recently, we’ve heard about honey bee die-offs due to a variety of problems. These stories are almost always about domesticated European honey bees, not native and wild bees.  These problems are largely cultural and have to do with sanitary bee management, not so much with ecological issues. Bees are important to agriculture and will be well… Read More →

Oak catkin mirid

Naturalists in Texas have no shortage of interesting insects to observe. If you were paying attention over the past couple of weeks, you may have noticed a small bug present in large numbers, especially around live oak trees. I’ve received several samples, some of which were sent by curious homeowners and some by pest control professionals. In some cases, they were observed clustering around doorways, other submitters just remarked that they were “very common right now.” Given the large number of small brown plant bugs on Bugguide, I… Read More →

Treehoppers

Every year brings its own oddities of entomology. Some years caterpillars strip trees bare in the spring, other years grasshoppers arrive in hoards.  This spring I’ve had a couple of reports of a small insect called a treehopper, sometimes in large numbers. Treehoppers are surely one of the most curious looking insects encountered by gardeners. They feed on plant sap, like many insects found in trees, but rarely seem to do much damage.  The most distinctive feature of the treehopper family is an upright, fin-like structure arising from… Read More →

When is Sevin not Sevin?

Any gardener who’s been around the block a few times has probably used the insecticide Sevin®, known generically as carbaryl. First introduced to the public in 1956, carbaryl was the first commercially successful product in the carbamate insecticide class.  Since then, it has been a pest control workhorse for vegetable gardeners and fruit growers.  It’s relatively low cost, broad spectrum activity, and relatively short (usually 3-day) interval between application and harvest made carbaryl a popular choice for growers.  Its relatively low oral and skin toxicity to mammals also made… Read More →

Bug bombs away

For many of us, the ultimate solution for cockroaches and bed bugs and other household pests is the “bug bomb.” Remember the old Raid commercials, where bugs flee from Mr. Raid, only to be followed home by the ominous cloud of death?  The implication is that the cloud from a bug bomb is like a heat seeking missile, able to follow pests into their deepest safe houses. So how well do bug bombs really work?  It turns out, not nearly as well as the animated ads suggest. Give… Read More →

A day in the life of a mint

  Growing plants is so much more interesting when you get to know your garden’s wildlife. Few of us will ever take the time to spend an entire day watching all the insects, spiders, birds, and reptiles attracted to our backyard garden. But if we did, we would probably be amazed at all the critters calling our yards “home.” Fortunately for us impatient folk, retired entomologist David Cappaert has done just that. Last summer, after noticing an unusual abundance of insect life attracted to just one kind of plant… Read More →

Give the love of insects this Christmas

Parents, here’s a Christmas idea for your kids. A hand lens, an insect net, a set of pins and an insect collection box could provide a doorway to the love of nature for your child. For some kids an insect collection can be the best way to learn about insects and connect with the outdoors. Photography is also good, but collecting engages all the senses in ways that a camera cannot. Many entomologists got their start collecting insects. An insect collecting kit as a Christmas present got one… Read More →